Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg on the Power of Uniform Dressing

Carolina Herrera New York Fashion Week Spring Summer 15 New York September 2014
Photo: Courtesy

For those in fashion, Steve Jobs was known as much for his genius at Apple as for his black Issey Miyake turtlenecks and blue dad jeans. Much like Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirt has become known as his signature. And you would be hard pressed to find President Barack Obama in anything other than a navy suit.

Why then is it so difficult for women to find their own personal, yet stylish uniform? While former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is without fail seen in her colorful pantsuits, people are often critical of her sartorial prowess. Not so, according to Diane von Furstenberg (below), who agrees there is something so freeing about wearing the same thing everyday. “I think she has great style,” she says. “She is consistent and she sends a message with her clothes that is effective and makes it more about the person.”

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Similarly, von Furstenberg has her own variation, which she calls a “petite valise” in the iconic tunic dress and wrap dress. “The wrap dress was born out of that idea,” she says. “I wanted something that was easy, that I could wear anywhere, and, you know, it is easy to pack. It doesn’t wrinkle, and it makes it easy to get dressed, so it works like a uniform.”

The designer is hardly the only fashion insider who has her go-tos. Take Carolina Herrera (at top), whose “security blanket” comes in the form of a white oxford. “Fashion is supposed to be for the everyday,” she says. “I have worn the white shirt since I was very young.” Herrera even manages to take her favorite design from day to night on many occasions. “It doesn’t always look like a white shirt even though it is,” she says. “With trouser or a short skirt it can be worn for day and then later with evening jewels and a ball skirt for night. Sometimes I see people wearing sequins for lunch, and I think there is a right time and place for what you are wearing. You must follow that in whatever you wear.”

Other uniforms like J.Crew stylist Gayle Spannus’s (below) aren't necessarily an exact science like Herrera’s. “I'm eclectic, but there are certain elements that I incorporate into everything I wear, like denim of some kind everyday, and my vintage men's watch is a given,” she says. “I will pair something feminine with something tomboy, something crisp with something soft—always a juxtaposition and always a balanced mix.” As for any rules she lives by, Spannus offers, “The combination of camel, cream, and crisp white, always. I will choose navy over black if pressed, but it's a great combination together, and elements of menswear mixed in with women's always feels right—pinstripes, houndstooths or tweeds in unexpected silhouettes and colors.”

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To make a uniform feel fresh, von Furstenberg suggests, “Add a simple clutch or a bold piece of jewelry, anything a little unexpected and sexy.” Spannus agrees and adds these tricks: “A lip color, hair style, pattern to a favorite silhouette or a pop of color makes a uniform new.” And if all else fails, von Furstenberg says, “It is all about the attitude. If you are doing it right, then the focus will be on the woman, and the woman always feels new.”

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